Rockies' latest cuts clarify Opening Day roster

Rutledge, R. Wheeler, T. Wheeler, McKenry and Pridie headed to Triple-A

Rockies' latest cuts clarify Opening Day roster

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies poised themselves to keep both left-handed-hitting outfielders competing for playing time and starts -- Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson -- and carry six outfielders on their Opening Day roster.

On Thursday, they optioned infielders Josh Rutledge and Ryan Wheeler and catcher Michael McKenry to Triple-A Colorado Springs, and reassigned non-roster outfielders Jason Pridie and Tim Wheeler to Colorado Springs. According to a Major League source, they also informed non-roster infielder Paul Janish he will not break camp with the club.

The Rockies are left with one pitching decision: whether to go with lefty Franklin Morales or righty Jordan Lyles as the fifth starter. Tied to that decision is the potential roster spot of right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Yankees.

Dickerson has outperformed Blackmon this spring, but Blackmon has more Major League experience. The team will give them time during the regular season to separate themselves rather than sending one to Colorado Springs for consistent playing time.

Colorado will keep Charlie Culberson as its utility man. He plays second base, shortstop and third base, and he spent time last year in the outfield corners.

Janish, a non-roster invitee, could end up on a Major League roster to start the regular season. Several teams are looking for a utility man who can play the middle positions, and Janish has done just that in the past three seasons with the Reds and Braves, at times starting.

Not keeping Janish and sending down Wheeler, who was bidding for a left-handed bench spot, leaves room for both left-handed-hitting outfielders. Dickerson has hit .379 with five doubles, a home run and a triple this spring. Blackmon, a .291 hitter in parts of three big league seasons, is batting .212, but he is considered the stronger defender. Both can play all three outfield positions.

Between the two, the Rockies will have a left-handed hitter who can make occasional starts. From the right side, Colorado has Drew Stubbs (.333, .404 on-base percentage this spring), who came in a trade with the Indians, and Brandon Barnes, who came in a trade with the Astros and has earned a bigger-than-expected swath of playing time with his strong spring (.340, .365 OBP).

By optioning McKenry, a strong defender who suffered a season-ending knee injury last July while with the Pirates, the Rockies decided upon Jordan Pacheco as the backup catcher to Wilin Rosario. The move is roster-friendly, since Pacheco is out of Minor League options. But Pacheco solidified his status with a .346 spring batting average.

The last decision centers on pitching. If the Rockies include Morales (3-1, 2.21 ERA in six games this spring) in the rotation, they will option Lyles (0-1, 3.18 in five games) to Colorado Springs. That would leave room for Kahnle (0.93 spring ERA, nine strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings).

If Colorado goes with Lyles, Morales would go to the bullpen and there would need to be a decision with Kahnle. If the Rockies want to remove Kahnle from their 25-man roster at any time this year, they would have to offer him back to the Yankees for $25,000 -- half of what they paid to selected him in the Rule 5 Draft. Colorado also could try to work out a deal with New York to keep Kahnle in their system.

The advantage of Morales being in the bullpen is he would join Rex Brothers as a second lefty reliever. Boone Logan, signed as a key piece of the back end of the bullpen after four seasons with the Yanks, will begin the year on the disabled list because of offseason surgery on his left elbow. However, Logan is eligible to be activated April 5.

The spot in the starting rotation is open in the first place because of a right shoulder strain suffered by Jhoulys Chacin, who also will begin the season on the DL and will be out until late April at the earliest, and mid May at the latest.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.